More than 20 babies have died at the B.C. Roy Memorial Hospital here last week, laying bare the West Bengal government's abysmal healthcare facilities and bringing back the horrors of 2002 when similar deaths occurred in this only state-run referral hospital for children.
The 22 crib deaths since Thursday come at a time when the state health department is in the midst of a controversy over using condemned blood testing kits, which are feared to have led to transfusion of HIV and Hepatitis contaminated blood among thousands of people.
West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and Health Minister Surya Kanta Misra had to rush to the hospital Saturday to handle the situation amid an outcry by opposition parties.
In 2002 August-September, 31 crib deaths took place at hospitals, including the B.C. Roy Memorial Hospital.
"An inquiry has been ordered into the deaths. Details will be revealed on Monday," Misra said. The opposition Congress and Trinamool Congress, which have demanded his resignation, are holding protests before the hospital Sunday.
On Thursday nine babies died, eight died the next day. Five more deaths were reported on Saturday.
The normal death rate in the hospital is between two and three a week. The hospital has 250 beds as against 400 patients at any time.
"Almost 60 percent infants here are brought in a very bad condition and in the last stages. Many are underweight and many come with severe infections," said hospital vice-president M.K. Chatterjee.
According to reports, the hospital lacks ventilators, pulse and heart rate monitors, equipment to measure blood gas as well as trained nurses.
After the 2002 deaths, the government had promised to revamp the hospital. But a new 110-bed building that was supposed to be ready has yet to start functioning.
Cricketer Sourav Ganguly had donated Rs.7.2 million in 2003 to the hospital and it had received Rs.10.8 million two years ago by the government.